twitter beachEarlier this year, Pew Research Center and the Social Media Research Foundation released a report that identified six structures of social media crowds that shape Twitter conversations. The research found that these structures are dependent on the topic being discussed, the sources of information cited during the conversations, the social networks of the people who are talking about the topic, and the leaders of the conversation.

The report identifies these six social structures as divided, unified, fragmented, clustered,  inward hub and spokes, and outward hub and spokes. Since social media conversations and social media referrals are so important to content publishing growth, let’s take a look at each structure and consider if the conversations happening about your content are actually happening among the right audiences.

The Polarized Crowd

The first social structure identified in Twitter conversations is referred to as the “divided” or “polarized crowd” and typically occur around topics that can be polarizing with extreme points. The members of one polarized crowd are unlikely to interact with other polarized crowds who don’t agree with them. The two groups get their information from very different sources and will be highly divided as they discuss the same topic. Polarized crowds are often found in discussions related to politics.

For some content publishers, the polarized crowd could be very appealing. Certainly, the content from some political websites that focus on a specific point of view will perform well when delivered to the right polarized crowd.

The Tight Crowd

On the other end of the spectrum are “unified” or “tight crowds” where members are strongly connected with one another. They share ideas, information, and help each other around a common interest such as professional topics, hobbies, conferences or events, and so on. The only participants are members of the community.

For example, the community could be loosely formed around photography or more formally formed around a journalistic photographers conference. These groups are not intentionally polarizing themselves from other groups and don’t shun alternate points of view, but the value of the conversations comes from having those conversations with other people who are equally invested in the topic.

For content publishers, getting the right content in front of these highly focused groups can be extremely effective.

The Brand Cluster

The next social structure identified in the research is referred to as a”fragmented” structure or a “brand cluster” because it is formed based on mutual interest in a product or celebrity. Since products and celebrities can have global recognition, these social structures can grow quite large on Twitter and beyond. However, they’re typically fragmented into smaller groups of people all discussing the broader topic amongst themselves. There is little connection with people outside of the smaller, fragmented clusters.

For content publishers, it is important to understand that just because a celebrity or public event is popular on Twitter, that doesn’t mean you can write about it and expect to have your content go viral. A better strategy is to connect that celebrity or event in a highly focused way to your content topic, and then seek out the fragmented groups on Twitter and across the social web who would be most interested in that focused content.

The Community Cluster

The “clustered” structure is made up of “community clusters” that form in order to discuss global news and events as well as popular topics with wide appeal. The smaller community clusters form around a collection of news sources for discussion but they are not connected with people outside of their smaller community clusters. Therefore, their conversations are not necessarily intended to be polarized but can be as a result of the small, disconnected social structure.

For content publishers, it’s important to understand that even “broad appeal” conversations could be received by community clusters in very different ways. Find the community clusters who would be most interested in your content and focus on joining their conversations and sharing your content with them.

The Broadcast Network

The “in-hub and spoke” social structure is also referred to as a “broadcast network” and is typically quite large. They’re most often centered around a celebrity or media organization that has a lot of followers who actively retweet the content published by that celebrity or media organization regardless of its content. There is little interaction among group members but a great deal of pass-along content from the hub is shared.

For content publishers, this is often the least effective social structure to spread your content. Even if this group retweets your content, that’s all they’ll do with it. There will be little or no engagement beyond clicking the retweet button.

The Support Network

Finally, the “out-hub and spoke” social structure (also called the “support network” structure) is usually created when a company, organization, or government agency responds to a customer complaint or request. For example, the @ComcastCares Twitter profile, which provides customer support, is a perfect example of a support network social structure. Members post messages to the company (at the center of the hub) and the company replies to customers (the spokes). However, there is rarely interaction between members of the support network.

For content publishers, an out-hub and spoke social structure could develop around your Twitter profile, but be careful. A support network structure is useful to help customers who might have problems, but it doesn’t provide the interactivity that you need to truly build your audience and achieve publishing success.

You can follow the link at the top of the article for all of the details from the Pew Research Center report. It’s well worth it to spend some time evaluating whether or not your content is reaching the right groups on Twitter.

Image: Rosaura Ochoa licensed CC BY 2.0